December 07, 2005

Isaiah's Reborn Passage?

I was listening to a recent Erwin McManus sermon today, and while it had really nothing to do with this post, he pointed out an interesting translation of a passage in Isaiah:

“As a pregnant woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were we in your presence, Lord.

We were with child, we writhed in pain, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth, and the people of the world have not been reborn.”

Isaiah 26:17-19 (TNIV)

Basically what seems to be going on here is Isaiah is equating Israel’s bondage and past plight with a woman in childbirth. But instead of birthing a child, Israel gives birth to essentially just ‘air.’ Since Israel hasn’t accomplished anything --- the world has not received salvation, and the people of the world have not been reborn.

Something Caught My Attention

Something there popped out right away --- the phrase “reborn” --- I had never seen this [1] before in the Old Testament.

Indeed the NIV rendered this as:
“We have not brought salvation to the earth; we have not given birth to people of the world.”
This is a very tough verse in Hebrew, but why is it that only the TNIV seems to render it this way? The Septuagint doesn’t seem to agree with the TNIV’s interpretation, and the KJV and the ESV render it the way the Septuagint does as “fall(en).” However the Septuagint translates the whole passage very differently:

“And as a woman in travail draws nigh to be delivered, and cries out in her pain; so have we been to thy beloved.

We have conceived, O Lord, because of thy fear, and have been in pain, and have brought forth the breath of thy salvation, which we have wrought upon the earth: we shall not fall, but all that dwell upon the land shall fall.”

So then, the translators of the Septuagint seemed to be looking at the situation very differently. Instead of failing to bring salvation --- they seem to think Israel has brought forth not air, but the breath [2] of the Lord’s salvation --- and that the other nations shall fall (in adoration?)

Targum and 1st Century Usage

I searched for a Targum of this passage, but couldn’t find an English translation, and I don’t know Aramaic, so I can’t say for certain how 1st century Jews might have been interpreting this verse. However if they interpreted it the way the Septuagint did this would shed some interesting light on a passage in John 3.

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?”

Nicodemus doesn’t get it (understandably) and Jesus explains it again, but Nicodemus is still stumped. Jesus finally says:

“Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”

To be fair, why wouldn’t the concept be confusing to a 1st century Jew? It’s still confusing to this day! Yet Jesus seems to think a teacher of Israel should understand. [3]

But perhaps it shouldn’t have been so confusing. Is it possible that the translation in the Septuagint, and perhaps the 1st century Jewish view on the passage could have been completely wrong? Could Jesus have been in part, speaking about this ‘reborn’ passage of Isaiah? Basically saying “you claim to be a teacher so how did you miss this?”

[1] The NASB: “Nor were inhabitants of the world born.” The ESV (and KJV): “... and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen.”

[2] Interestingly, but perhaps unrelated: the Greek word for “sprit” and “wind” are the same in the Gospels.

[3] It is possible he wouldn’t really be able to understand it, and Jesus is just making a point.


At December 07, 2005 11:36 AM, Blogger Justin Jenkins said...


If anyone has an Targum translation (in English) of this passage ... let me know.


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